How to make Dovetail Joints: Marking and Cutting the Pins to Make Dovetail Joints

Summary: Dovetail Joints; This type of joint is used in box constructions such as draws, jewelry boxes, cabinets and other pieces of furniture where strength is required. See how you make a strong joint in timber using a dovetail joint with these step by step instructions, including how you mark and cut the pins for the joint.

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The ‘DOVETAIL JOINT’ is very strong because of the way the ‘tails’ and ‘pins’ are shaped. This makes it difficult to pull the joint apart and virtually impossible when glue is added. This type of joint is used in box constructions such as draws, jewellery boxes, cabinets and other pieces of furniture where strength is required. It is a difficult joint which requires practice. There are different types of dovetail joint and when cut accurately they are very impressive and attractive.

Dove joint Dove joint

The Lapped Dovetail Joint

This type of dovetail joint is often used for draws where the joint can only be seen from one side. The joint is very strong as are all dovetail joints. This type of joint is sometimes used for book cases and cabinets.

Dovetail Joint A Lapped Dovetail as the joints for a draw
  A Lapped Dovetail as the joints for a draw

Marking And Cutting Out The Dovetail Joint (The Tail)

We have shown below how to cut the joint by hand. Dovetail Jigs (to the right) can be bought. These set out both the tail and the pins accurately and require a router (also to the right) to cut the joint.

How To Cut The Joint By Hand

Dovetail Joint1. The two sides to be jointed are arranged as shown in the diagram. A pencil is used to mark the thickness of the material.

Dovetail Joint2. A marking knife and a try square are used to mark all the way round the material. It is possible to use only a pencil but a marking knife is more precise and it has the advantage of cutting the wood fibres. This means when a saw is used to cut the joint the surface of the wood is less likely to split.

Dovetail Joint3. A dovetail template is used to mark out the dovetail. A sliding bevel can be used also by setting it to the required dovetail angle. The waste wood should be shaded with a pencil. This will help you avoid cutting away the wrong part of the joint.

Dovetail Joint4. The wood is placed in a vice. It must be vertical so that the dovetail or tenon saw is always cutting down in a straight line. Avoid putting the wood in the vice at an angle as it will be virtually impossible to use the saw accurately. When cutting it is important to cut on the waste wood side of the line. It should be possible to see the marking out lines after the saw has been used.

DIY Book: Basic Carpentry DIY Book: Home Carpentry

Marking Out And Cutting A Dovetail Joint: Marking And Cutting The Pins

Dovetail Joint Dovetail Joint 7. The first side is placed above the second side of the joint and the pins are marked out. Again a pencil is used although the traditional tool would be a marking knife.

Dovetail Joint8. Marking out the joint when both pieces are together can be difficult but a steel ruler or a try square can be used to straighten any lines. Again, the waste wood must be clearly identified.

Dovetail Joint9. A dovetail / tenon saw is used to cut down the lines marking the pins. The wood must be secured in the vice in the same way as before. Remember, the saw is used to cut straight down the joint, on the waste side of the pencil line.

Dovetail Joint10. A coping saw is used to remove the waste wood. Again the wood is secured in the vice.

Dovetail Joint11. A chisel is used to finish the joint, if it is needed. The wood is placed in a woodworkers vice so that it cannot slip. The joint should fit together if care has been taken when marking out and cutting the two sides.

Dovetail Joint12. If the pin is slightly inaccurate a firmer or bevel edged chisel can be used to correct it. A G cramp is used to hold the wood firmly. Scrap wood is placed underneath to protect the surface of the bench from the chisel. The second side of the joint should now be complete.

Dovetail Joint

The completed dovetail joint.

DIY Book: Basic Carpentry DIY Book: Home Carpentry


Then visit our other four timber joint projects:

If you go to our video section on carpentry you can watch a video on how to cut dovetails by hand.

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